Francis Bacon (Dublin, Irlanda [Ireland], 1909-1992, Madrid, Espanha [Spain]) Two Figures with a Monkey [Duas figuras com um macaco], 1973, Óleo sobre tela [Oil on canvas], 198,5 × 148 cm, Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, INBAL, Secretaría de Cultura SIGROPAM: 14737 CR 73-09, Cidade do México [Mexico City] © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. AUTVIS, Brasil / DACS/Artimage, London 2024
Francis Bacon (Dublin, Irlanda [Ireland], 1909-1992, Madrid, Espanha [Spain])
Two Figures with a Monkey [Duas figuras com um macaco], 1973,
Óleo sobre tela [Oil on canvas], 198,5 × 148 cm,
Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, INBAL, Secretaría de Cultura
CR 73-09, Cidade do México [Mexico City]
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. AUTVIS, Brasil / DACS/Artimage, London 2024

Francis Bacon: The Beauty of Meat Francis Bacon


MASP - Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand
Avenida Paulista, 1578 – Bela Vista
São Paulo-SP

Comment s'y rendre ?

MASP - Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand presents, from March 22 to July 28, 2024, the exhibition Francis Bacon: The Beauty of Meat, which occupies the  gallery on the first floor. Curated by Adriano Pedrosa, artistic director, MASP, Laura Cosendey, assistant curator, MASP, and Isabela Ferreira Loures, curatorial assistant, MASP, the exhibition aims to highlight how the artist, with his innovative and impactful painting, paved the way for a queer presence in visual culture.


Spanning over four decades of the Irish artist's work, the exhibition, with master sponsorship from Nubank and sponsorship from Vivo, brings together more than twenty works by Bacon, from the early decades of his production to the 1980s, and is accompanied by a catalog with unpublished essays. The works are on loan from museums such as Tate (England), MoMA (New York), Metropolitan Museum (New York), Museum Boijmans van Beuningen (Netherlands), Tamayo Museum (Mexico), Fondation Beyeler (Switzerland), Stedelijk Museum (Netherlands), among countless other internationally renowned institutions and private collections. 


Francis Bacon (Dublin, Ireland, 1909-1992, Madrid, Spain) is considered one of the most important painters of twentieth-century art, with more than six decades of production. The son of English parents, he had a difficult childhood in a violent family environment. At the age of sixteen, his father threw him out of the house and, after spending time in Berlin and Paris, he settled in London from the 1930s onwards, where he began his career as an artist. Bacon built up a strong and striking oeuvre, becoming a key figure in the renewal of figurative painting.


The artist focused especially on male figures, his object of desire, in portraits and nudes. The exhibition features portraits of men with whom he had remarkable relationships, such as Peter Lacy (1916-1962) and George Dyer (1934-1971), as well as other important figures in his life, such as his close companion John Edwards. 


The title of the show, The Beauty of Meat, is inspired by a statement made by the artist in one of the interviews conducted by the art critic and important interlocutor throughout his career, David Sylvester. Bacon says that when he came across a butcher's shop window, he thought: "[...] one has got to remember as a painter that there is this great beauty of the color of meat. [...] We are meat, we are potential carcasses. If I go into a butcher's shop, I always think it is surprising that I wasn’t there instead of the animal.


The physicality of the body is translated by the artist using thick, oily textures, giving the figures almost abstract forms. Bacon's paintings bring together a wide variety of iconographic sources, revisiting canonical themes and combining references from art history with his personal experiences and perceptions of the male body.


"Whether in his early works, which often transgressed symbols of Christianity, or in those depicting male nudes, the physicality of the body is also central to his work," says curator Laura Cosendey. "Bacon's symbolism of the flesh contains extremes: the spiritual and the animal, freshness and putrefaction. It is the very materiality of our existence 'in the flesh', but it is also an icon of carnal desire, of the body's natural instinct," she concludes.


Bacon's production accompanies the significant changes in the queer experience in the British social context, since sexual acts between people of the same gender were only decriminalized in England in 1967, after the enactment of the Sexual Offenses Act. These transformations had significant consequences for the artist's work. Still in the 1950s, Bacon produced Two Figures (1953) and Two Figures in the Grass (1954), works that mark a turning point in his career. In both, two male bodies appear in the scene, intertwined and pushing the boundaries of the body. These pairs of figures, which the artist referred to as “couplings,” could be confused with images of wrestlers going head to head, amplifying the ambiguity of the queer images presented by Bacon.


If initially his production was marked by a certain ambiguity between desire and violence, especially in the 1950s, the presence of the erotic and of homosexual relationships gradually became more evident. The work Man at a Washbasin (circa 1954) also suggests a sense of intimacy based on a commonplace gesture: an arched human figure leaning over the sink. The painting suggests this bond by portraying a moment of privacy in dealing with the body.


In subsequent years, Bacon began to work with thick layers of paint to characterize his paintings. The viscerality with which the artist portrayed these bodies burst through the surface of the skin, exceeding its limits, as if he were painting the inverse of the flesh. Paintings such as Two Figures with a Monkey (1972), which also features one of his couplings, highlight these matings. “Here, carnality is placed in its literal matter, in the foreground, but it also emerges in the voracity of the bodies in action, bringing into play the clash between their intertwined figures. The sexual act is once again the protagonist,” explains Cosendey.


In some interviews given by Bacon throughout his career, the artist commented on how his emotional life deeply affected his production. His work was impacted by two turbulent relationships that marked his life: Peter Lacy, his partner throughout the 1950s, and George Dyer, whom he met shortly after Lacy's death and who became his great inspiration during the almost ten years they spent together.


The men the artist loved remained spectral presences in his paintings, enduring even after their relationships ended. Study for Three Heads (1962), for example, one of his first smaller-scale triptychs, combines a portrait of Lacy with his self-portrait. After Dyer's tragic death on the eve of the opening of Bacon's solo exhibition in Paris in 1971, the artist also painted important triptychs dedicated to him.


For Laura Cosendey, the artist's personal life had a significant impact on the production and understanding of his works: “the combination of the artist's intimacy and the expressive gesture of his brushstrokes is what brings power to Bacon's work, which still takes our breath away today. His images bring us the vigor of life, but also the imminence of death - this ambivalence of the beauty of meat that, for decades, impacted the painter's eyes.”


Francis Bacon: The Beauty of Meat is part of MASP's annual programming dedicated to Queer Histories. This year's programming also includes exhibitions by Gran Fury, Mário de Andrade, MASP Renner, Lia D Castro, Catherine Opie, Leonilson, Serigrafistas Queer and the large group show Queer Histories.